Combining Functions

Another issue for contactless cards is the large installed base of proximity cards and readers for physical access.

"There's a tremendous amount of [proximity card] infrastructure already purchased," said Keith Ward, general manager for the identification and authentication solutions group at Northrop Grumman Information Technology. "It's expensive to go back and replace."

But Joe Schuler, president of ImageWare Systems Inc.'s ID solutions division, describes proximity cards as being at the low end of the contactless technology spectrum. "Those products are typically what I would call dumb cards," he said, noting that they lack a programmable microprocessor and storage that true smart cards have. The proximity card's job, he said, is to transmit a precoded and unalterable ID number when the card is within range of a reader.

The newer contactless technologies being fitted onto true smart cards are more capable, according to industry executives. Smart cards are built around chips that let agencies store cardholder identity information and biometric data, and process security algorithms for authenticating and encrypting electronic transactions.

The contactless chips also offer the ability to use one card for both logical and physical access. That development would reduce the number of cards dangling from employees' necks.

Accordingly, agencies are starting to explore hybrid smart cards that incorporate both contact and contactless microprocessors. Such hybrid solutions are sometimes referred to as "combicards."

"The commercial base has been using hybrid for some time for physical and logical access," said Neville Pattinson, director of business development and technology at Schlumberger Ltd. Now, he added, "we are certainly seeing a lot of movement in the government space to use that technology."

In one example, contactless technology is under consideration for the Defense Department's Common Access Card, which currently uses contact chips.

The Navy recently concluded a pilot in which a contactless Mifare chip was embedded on a CAC card and used for physical access. Mifare, developed by Royal Philips Electronics, is a contactless technology widely use in farecards and other transit applications.

The pilot took place at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in Norfolk, Va. The experiment involved 260 users and the inclusion of biometric data on the contactless chip. A June report from the Navy's e-Business Operations Office concluded that the pilot "demonstrated that biometrics on a Mifare embedded chip could meet the functional demands of the physical security community for door access control."

The report also noted that other contactless approaches should be investigated and vulnerabilities examined.

In another initiative, Pattinson said Schlumberger will soon supply 10,000 hybrid cards to the Interior Department as part of that agency's badging program. That smart card order falls under the General Services Administration's Smart Access Common ID contract. [TK: how do these two things relate?]

Other federal contactless projects are in the offing. In July, the State Department issued a request for information regarding next-generation passports. The RFI calls for contactless chips to contain biometrics. The next phase of the Transportation Security Administration's Transportation Worker Identity Credential card program is expected to have a contactless component, said Bill Alsbrooks, business area manager for credential card business at Anteon Corp.

Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.


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